MRKOCI email@example.com_county.london.london_free_press 2008-04-25 published
Body found behind school
By Joe BELANGER, Fri., April 25, 2008
Sun Media -- Londoner Harry GERIS -- a three-time Olympian known as the Gentle Giant of Canadian wrestling -- died suddenly yesterday, his body found behind a high school.
His body was found by a construction worker at 7: 30 a.m. behind Saunders secondary school, where he was delivering wrestling mats for an elementary school tournament.
GERIS, 60, is survived by his wife, Jo-Anne, and three sons, Jason, Ryan and Shawn, who all became wrestlers.
Police said foul play isn't suspected. An autopsy will be done to determine the cause of death.
"He was known as the Gentle Giant," said Glynn LEYSHON, 78, a former University of Western Ontario wrestling coach who took GERIS to his first international match in 1964.
"He'll be sorely missed. He did an awful lot for the sport and, as a friend, he'd do anything for you. You only had to ask and he'd do it if he could."
The former insurance salesperson made a living supplying wrestling equipment for tournaments, but spent most of his time volunteering as a wrestling coach.
GERIS was born in the Netherlands. His family immigrated to Canada when he was a child.
He earned a scholarship to wrestle at Oklahoma State University, a powerhouse in the sport.
"Harry was a friend to me and one of the great Olympians," Oklahoma State wrestling coach John Smith said through a spokesperson.
"Not only did he represent Canada, he represented Oklahoma State. He was a great man… and he will be missed."
Just three weeks ago, a wrestler coached by GERIS, Katie PATROCH, 25, a teacher at Westminster secondary school in London, won her first national championship in the 59-kilogram category to earn a trip to Tokyo for the world championships in October.
"I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am today without Harry," said a tearful PATROCH.
"If anybody asked him for help, he was there. He was a member of the family to me and undoubtedly changed my life."
Accolades and condolences poured in from across Canada as word of GERIS's death spread.
"It's just so sad, a real shock," said Josip MRKOCI of London, chairperson of the Commonwealth Amateur Wrestling Association.
"I consider him one of my best Friends. He dedicated his life to wrestling. The wrestling world has lost a person who supported wrestling his entire life, never thinking about himself, always volunteering for everything."
MRKOCI lamented that he missed the deadline by five days to have GERIS nominated for induction into the London Sports Hall of Fame this year.
"Maybe I can convince them to consider Harry," he said.
Western wrestling coach Ray TAKAHASHI went to the 1976 Olympics as a junior with GERIS.
"He's a legend in the United States and Canada and wrestling has really lost a big friend," said TAKAHASHI.
"He was a friendly giant. He had a heck of a big voice, a heck of a temper, but a really big heart.
"We used to run together and, for such a large man, he was a really good runner."
GERIS, who stood six-foot-four and weighed in excess of 220 pounds, was U.S. junior college heavyweight champion in 1968 and runner-up in 1969
He finished fourth in the National Collegiate Athletic Association championships in 1972, his final year.
LEYSHON said, despite his size, GERIS was a gentle spirit.
"Being involved in a contact sport was (an) antithesis to his character," said LEYSHON.
"I remember once at a meet he pinned a guy down in about 45 seconds, helped the guy up and apologized.
"He's going to be sorely missed."
Graduate of Beal secondary school in London he won the Ontario high school championship, the Ontario open and the Canadian championship.
Ten-time Canadian heavyweight champion, who first competed internationally for Canada in 1966 at the British Empire Games and worlds in Toledo, Ohio.
Earned a three-year scholarship to wrestling powerhouse Oklahoma State University and finished fourth in the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship in 1972. He finished fourth in the World Student Games in Moscow in 1973.
Competed for Canada at the Olympics in 1968 (Mexico), 1972 (Munich) and 1976 (Montreal), twice at the world championships, the Commonwealth Games, Pan-Am Games (winning bronze in 1975) and the World Student Games, winning two bronze medals.
Served as president of the Ontario Amateur Wrestling Association, the Ontario Olympic Wrestling Federation, the London-Western Wrestling Association and the Southwest Optimist Club of London.
Volunteer coach anywhere he was asked, including the University of Western Ontario.
Inducted into the U.S. National Junior College Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1980.
Inducted into the Canadian Amateur Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1984.
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